Volunteers of one of Ireland’s busiest coast guard units who were sacked last year say they feel as if they have been “abandoned”.
Many served up to between 10 and 34 years with the unit in Doolin, Co Clare, and have extensive climbing and boat skills.
Before Irish Coast Guard management had them “permanently stood down” last December, they had helped save more than 100 lives.
Out of about 1,200 emergency call-outs over the years, they had conducted 200 recoveries — mostly at the foot of the Cliffs of Moher.
Speaking for the first time since the Government announced on December 16 their unit was being reformed without them, 10 volunteers whose membership of the unit was terminated, say Irish Coast Guard management has never explained what — if anything — they did wrong.
The decision to stand down the unit came the day after a small number of volunteers resigned.
Members who didn't resign are baffled why they were subsequently "sacked", but those who resigned were invited back in to reform the unit.
They believe they are being punished for raising safety issues with coast guard management after Caitriona Lucas died in 2016 trying to recover the body of a man off the Kilkee coast.
She was the first volunteer of the Irish Coast Guard to die on duty.
Myles Duffy, who served with the Doolin unit for 29 years, said: “I don’t know what I am supposed to have done wrong, and members feel the same.
“None of us did anything wrong but we are being made to give up doing something we devoted so much of our lives doing.”
Independent mediator Kieran Mulvey was brought in to help to resolve matters. The Government said he concluded that “interpersonal difficulties are not capable of being resolved through the normal mediation process”.
But the volunteers insist the “interpersonal difficulties” no longer existed in the unit after the six members who resigned had resigned.
They also say that after they resigned, three former members declared themselves very happy to sign up in their place, taking the strength of the unit up to 13.
However, members say they remain baffled that a decision was taken instead by the Irish Coast Guard to sack those members who didn’t resign – and who made up the majority of the unit – but reinstate, on an interim basis as the unit is being reformed, anybody who resigned.
The sacked members say that far from the Irish Coast Guard’s decision to permanently stand them down being a “proportionate response” to differences in the unit, it was entirely disproportionate.
It has served to increase the reaction time to emergencies in the area normally served by the Doolin unit, and left the area with fewer volunteers in a position to help people in distress, they said.
And they say that despite Mr Mulvey promising to come back to the members after he met them, he did not return.
As a result, they say attempts by Irish Coast Guard management to resolve matters were not in any way as comprehensive as they have made out in statements to TDs.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Department of Transport said: "It would be inappropriate to comment on any individual HR matters."